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Student Tawni Alston Learns the Impact of Education Projects While in Panama

Some of the best learning experiences can take place outside of the classroom, and sometimes even out of the country. MPP student Tawni Alston had an extraordinary experience when she traveled to Panama City, Panama, during the fall semester as part of her internship with the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

Alston started her work as a STEM education intern with PADF in spring 2018. She has worked with public and private partners to implement and manage the organization’s STEM education projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We’re currently implementing STEM education projects in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Panama and the Bahamas,” she says. “I get to work with private-sector donors like Boeing and Royal Caribbean to train teachers in STEM education methodology, encourage students to pursue careers in STEM fields and strengthen STEM education in the region.”

Alston adds that she was offered the opportunity in the fall to go to Panama to see a project she had been helping manage remotely in D.C. “I was ecstatic when given the chance to see the project in action, because nothing compares to meeting our beneficiaries in person and seeing our work come to fruition.”

In Panama, Alston says PADF partnered with local organizations to set up STEM academies in public schools. “Before the academies, teachers received training on STEM education strategy and learned how to most effectively teach STEM concepts to their students,” she says. “During the academies, students learned about STEM concepts and were taught basic robotics and programming skills. At the end of the program, the students who participated in the academies were given the chance to participate in a national STEM event.”

During her trip, Alston oversaw PADF’s local partner FUNDSTEAM’s work. The Panamanian non-profit works with children and youth throughout the country to teach students STEM skills. “My trip to Panama coincided with the National Robotics Olympiad, a nationwide competition organized by FUNDSTEAM,” she says. “I was able to see middle school and high school students that participated in our STEM academies compete in the robotics competition.”

“My favorite part of the trip was meeting the public school students that we sponsored to participate in the science fair competition, thanks to Boeing’s funding and FUNDSTEAM’s help,” she adds. “Getting to meet those students was so fulfilling. Seeing how excited they were to show what they had learned over the course of the STEM project showed me how big of an impact education projects can have. Knowing that these kids were given the opportunity to compete in the Olympiad because of PADF’s help was one of the most fulfilling life experiences I’ve ever had.”

Alston, who is currently focusing on international development at SPP, says after graduation she hopes to continue working towards providing sustainable solutions to socioeconomic issues on international and local levels. “Throughout my experience at SPP, I learned just how versatile a policy degree can be, and I look forward to using the skills I gained here to make the world a bit of a better place.”